Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas letter to an amazing year.

Season Greetings, it’s the time of year to celebrate and cherish the moments, people, and places that have touched our lives. It is also a time to honor the surprises, disappointments, and challenges both big and small that helped shape and lead us into new directions. I truly hope your year was filled with joy, laughter, and happiness and that next year you choose to make 2008 an even better year.

There are many views of life; some see it as a wild roller coaster ride, others as a journey, and several of us really do not have an analogy for life or even a plan. My goal is to make the most of all of life’s possibilities and to never look back. The majority of us at the end of the year ask, where did the year go? Wow….When I look back on 2007 a smile slowly forms across my face. It all started Christmas of last year.

On Christmas day last year a good friend, Albert Ferro, and my parents came together to buy me RSX Olympic Windsurfing gear. I remember staring at the photos in shock, being totally stoked, and then there was the overwhelming question, Wow…The Olympic Gear….What does this mean? No one knew that answer nor do I think either Albert or my parents really thought about what would happen next. I just learned how to windsurf that summer and have never raced before on any sailboat, dingy, or windsurfer. This gift created a dream of the possibility of representing the United States in the 2012 Olympic Games.

Last Christmas was very special for my family and me. Since we where leaving Florida before Christmas to do our yearly snowboarding trip to Mammoth Ski Resort in CA, we had part of our Christmas early with our dear friends Chuck and Elena. After dinner and presents I remember the sparkle in Elena’s eyes when she talked about supporting me in the 2012 Olympic Games and going to London. A sparkle that I know will remain in my memory and heart forever. Elena passed away on December 20, 2007. Elena taught me that no matter what the odds are to never stop dreaming of tomorrow. Both Elena and Chuck became a big part of what was to come next.

In January, I was back in graduate school studying for my MBA in central FL at Rollins College exploring all the possibilities of the looming question of, what do I really want to do next? I entered my first windsurfing competition in March, Calema Midwinter’s, on my new RSX gear. I was still at the point of tripping over the center dagger board, stepping on the adjustable mast track on accident, doing a lot of acrobatic stunts to stay upright on the board, and basically spending most of my time lost sailing in the wrong direction. Of course, I had no idea what a windsurfing racing was all about. I just had a simple idea that you go around buoys and whoever is the “fastest” sailor wins. My first of many critical mistakes was not wearing contacts. It is very hard to go around buoys (marks) if you can not see them! Plus, it is important to know the course such as, how do you go around the buoys and in what direction etc. These are only some of the factors I missed and was barely able to sort out by the end of the last race. I do believe I did do the actual course a few times, perhaps…

One of the things I did realized was that the journey to the Olympics was going to be a huge challenge. I needed to learn; strong basic windsurfing skills, how to race, sailing tactics, rules, fundraising, market myself, develop and manage an Olympic Campaign, and travel to enough Regattas to get “some” sailing experience just to name a few things on my formidable “to do list.” As most of you probably realize that if it was going to be easy I would not be interested. So, how did going for 2012 Olympic Games change into going for the 2008 Games? At first thought was to get the experience. The second thought was that if I was going to dedicate the next four years of my life to this pursuit of Olympic Windsurfing racing I better first see what I was getting myself, my friends, family and supporters into. Naturally, in my outgoing, adventurous, and spontaneous way I jumped right into the challenge and never looked back.

Now it was July and the US Olympic Trials where in October when I made my decision to go for it. I took a leave of absence from my MBA program to start training, traveling, and fundraising full time. I could not have done this without the support of my parents, my Olympic committee (Dennis, Linda, Albert, Christine, Jack, Chuck, and the rest of the Calema family), Bikram Yoga on Island, friends, family, and others who touched my life and contributed to my dreams. Thank you.

I had 3 months and the clock was ticking. In the challenge of fundraising and limited time it was an extreme challenge to get racing experience. Most Olympic racing takes place in Europe and by the end of July the tour had ended. I was blessed with the opportunity to do a couple of small races before the Olympic trials. However, none of these races where RSX Olympic Windsurfing regattas.

I went to the Dominican Republic which is a beautiful place and ideal for wave sailing to do a slalom race. I had no experience on a slalom board. The Olympic board is a beast at 220 liters, 3 meters long (9 feet), one meter wide (3 feet) and is like standing on a floating table. Whereas, a slalom board is only 80 liters and seemed extremely narrow as I spent most of my time deep water starting from stepping off the board while attempting to jibe (turn) in the waves. Before I even got on the water I extended my stay as I looked out at the waves, turquoise water, and felt the heat of the sun on my back. Great idea only if….I was not going to be home for only 24 hours before flying to San Francisco for US Windsurfing Nationals.

As I flew to San Francisco my amazing parents, grandma, and two dogs drove across the country from Florida to CA in the “Parris Family Caravan” (Ford Van and 23 foot trailer) fully loaded with all the windsurfing toys. Remember, cats are said to have nine lives, well I am lucky that I am a human that has more than nine lives. Going from tropical weather, running around in my bikini and sunny skies to the gray skies, crisp cold air, and a borrowed 5’3 wetsuit (very thick) to try and survive San Francisco Bay was just one of the shocks. The other was the stomach flu I brought back with me from the DR. The third surprise is that there were four other RSX Windsurf racers which meant I needed to use an adjustable down haul system for the first time in treacherous waters, strong currents, and high winds of San Francisco Bay.

I can not express the fear, exhaustion, utter shock, anger, and at the same time the laughter I experienced as I was broken down in San Francisco Bay. I found myself caught in the strong ebbing currents between the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Slowly a state of panic set in as I realized I was too weak from the stomach virus to swim and I had no idea how to de-rig my sail to attempt a self-rescue. I would look up at the horizon scared to see a huge tanker coming my way and than I would look down at the water with visions of great white sharks circling below me. All while “chumming (feeding)” the creatures below my lunch. I learned the importance of a great race committee. I ended up getting rescued 3 times in a five day tournament. I survived and so did my worried parents.

Over the next month, we headed to Long Beach, CA, back to Florida, and than back to Long Beach, CA again for the US Olympic Trials. The Olympic Trails was an amazing experience but what was truly priceless was the journey to get there. One of the many reasons I feel in love with windsurfing is the opportunity to meet great people, travel the world, while at the same time being mentally and physically challenged every step of the way. After the trials the question of, what’s next, loomed again. It took me a month before I was on a plane to New Zealand to compete in RSX World Championships in Takapuna right outside of Auckland on the North Shore.

My adopted New Zealand family is made up of the four women; Debbie (middle sister 24), Me, Jill (Mom), Sheree (youngest sister 21). The oldest daughter Jodie lives in Shanghai. The father Alan's positive energy, laughter, and love for life will remain in the girl’s hearts forever.

Now, one year later on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, I am writing you from my New Zealand home. I am living with a local family whom will be a part of my life I hope for years to come. I am not only living and training here I am also working here. I have yet accepted another challenge; two weeks ago I was promoted to the Media Manager for RSX World Championships. Yes, I will also be competing in them. Everyone at the Takapuna Boating Club has been amazing and has welcomed me with open arms. I have not been treated as tourist only here for two months. I have been accepted and treated as family giving me a home away from home.

Grant Cunningham, Event Director for 2008 Takapuna Boating Club, his Media Manager (me), Sheila his super cool wife, and yes my two New Zealand sisters who I recruited for the "Christmas Santa Parade." We had a blast announcing both the worlds and Santa is coming to town.

This year just like last Christmas was special. Thank you to my New Zealand adopted family, everyone at the Takapuna Boating Club, and my new friends for making this Christmas away from home feel like home. My family, extended family, and friends in the States are close to my heart this holiday season. Elena you are dearly missed but thank you for leaving me with a sparkle in my eye and dreams for the many Christmas’ to come.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Denise Parris, USA 235

Saturday, December 8, 2007

1,000 Smiles, 1,000 Possibilities, 1,000 Dreams

If you could close your eyes and image a place where spring is just around the corner and the flowers are starting to bloom adding the beautiful colors of red, purple, and yellow against the back drop of a turquoise blue sea, clear skies, and trees dancing in the afternoon seas breeze. As you slowly walk along the rolling hills of the sea side shore breath taking views emerge in each bend of the pathway, you take a deep breath and taste the salt in your month only to slowly realize this is not a dream, this is my life. The beauty of the North Shore of Auckland, New Zealand is something I hope each and every one of you get to experience for yourself.

One of the many things that make this place special is the people. Kiwi’s love their country and are incredibly passionate about sailing. Auckland is known as the 'City of Sails' and it seems almost all Kiwis are born with a set of sea legs. As a relatively new windsurfer I have never had a chance to go out on what some sailors call a "proper" sailing boat or even on a little dingy boat for that matter. Last week, I had the opportunity to go out on a Friday night, to experience the Auckland Harbor "Rum Race."

As a windsurfer I thought I understood the freedom of the sea but one thing a solo windsurfer misses out on is the companionship and team work of a sailor and his crew. A windsurfer has to do it all; rig the sail, adjust the rig settings for the constantly changing wind conditions, read the wind, analyze competitors positions and anticipate their next move, and the list goes on and on. Whereas, each sailor on a boat has one job and works as team with his/her crew to make decisions on what the best move is or sail setting is by updating crew members of competitor’s positions and calling out wind shifts. I loved every minute of it and learned a lot about sailing and sailing tactics.

Now I understand why windsurfers with sailing back grounds have huge advantages. Our boat, PRISM, did not win the bottle of Rum but we had a great time. Each day I am learning a lot here both on the water and off.

In the RSX World Championships there will be 200 sailors representing over 56 countries. As sailors arrive, I have had the opportunity to sail with the best sailors from around the world. It is an amazing experience to look up at the sailor’s numbers next to you on the water and see; Belgium, Turkey, Denmark, Bulgaria, New Zealand, Israel, Germany, Canada, Hungry, Italy, and many more.

Denise Parris, USA 235